Let’s hope Charli XCX is a benevolent monarch. The U.K. singer and songwriter’s sterling 2013 album, True Romance, reinforced her status as a frank and multi-faceted pop talent, but a funny thing happened on the way to follow-up album Sucker: She blew up far beyond the scale of her debut. True, Charlotte Aitchison had already scored a global hit as a songwriter and guest artist on Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” But then she caught the Iggy Azalea wave with this summer’s inescapable “Fancy.” And not long after, best of all, her own song, “Boom Clap,” became such a popular success that she used its longevity as a reason to delay the sophomore LP.
Charli has been saying since as far back as last year that her next record would be far from any “synth-pop” expectations. “It’s very shouty and raw … like, ‘RAAAAA!’” she told SPIN in December 2013, listing the Ramones, the Hives and Weezer as inspirations. Giddy first single “SuperLove,” which she shared as a video that December, doesn’t actually stray far from her prior neon-lit hits — nor, for that matter, does “Boom Clap” — but the gleefully irreverent “Break the Rules” confirmed a punkier direction. Now comes “London Queen,” which she has been playing live and describes to Rolling Stone as “future Ramones.” She isn’t kidding: Synths still sparkle, but it’s in a more blitzkrieg-bopping context (“Oy!”).
British artists angling for U.S. radio play in recent years can face a balancing act — Arctic Monkeys must have initially struck some programmers as “too English,” whereas Adele‘s musical roots are so American she can be convincingly covered by Aretha Franklin — so leave it to Charli to be as blunt as possible about her origins. “When I’m driving on the wrong side of the road / I feel like JFK,” she brays, on a song presented to her almost finished by collaborator Justin Raisen. She’s not apologizing. She’s invading. And, as if in her own spin on the title of Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu‘s 2013 “Q.U.E.E.N.,” she demands her rightful welcome as royalty. It doesn’t have to run in the blood — this is America.